A tribute from Africa
Gabriel C Banda
MAYA Angelou’s passing on May 28th, 2014, has moved many all over the world.
Maya Angelou was not just an artist in poetry, literature, and performance, but also a social activist for a better world. Her writing, performances, and activism for the common good were about life and living, and humanity as a family.
Maya Angelou showed that being Black or of African descent is legitimate. She was black and she was American. Deeper, she was human. She was a very active member of the universal human family.
One of her lines I consider very moving in its truth, and I have for some two decades many times quoted, is “We are more alike than unalike.” This summarises the unity of the human family. We are a variation in physical attributes and are in some variations of social situations yet we, each one of us, are essentially part of the same human family and part of each other.
In the early 1990s, when I was doing Peace Studies at University of Bradford, I got onto a bus hired by the students union to attend Maya Angelou’s presentation in the city of Manchester. People came from various parts of Britain to her Manchester appearance.
Maya Angelou stood quite tall. And as in other places before and afterwards, Maya Angelou read her work with passion. She was graceful in her clear, deep, voice. She was friendly, warm. She was joyful. She carried sincerity with her. She smiled and laughed greatly and often. For her, her reading performance was some celebration of life and living.
Careful and deliberate in her speaking, stressing some words, and having some presence in the words she delivered. You felt she spoke to you directly. You felt you knew her. This came through because of her sincerity and the soul to soul connection one feels to such sincerity.
To an audience of many, she reached out to each. Many considered her one they knew, a friend who was travelling in life with them and comparing her notes with them.
Maya Angelou’s performances were a celebration. She was celebrating living. She was celebrating life.
She enjoyed reading her work. She had joy in her delivery. She was passionate. She came to you as a friend, aunt, sister, and mother.
Maya Angelou enjoyed being alive. She enjoyed being a life. She enjoyed being part of life. She enjoyed being life itself. Passion for life and the joy of creation.
Some of her life had been hard yet she did not carry bitterness in her. Her various experiences she shared. She was a teacher. She was enchanting, endearing, a loving person to be loved. She was approached in dignity and love.
Maya Angelou, who had lived in Africa a few years of the 1960s, had both America and Africa in her, and with her. She also had the world in her. She has been respected and loved by many worldwide. She inspired by both her story and her personal presence.
Maya Angelou was respected by persons from various backgrounds – African Americans, Africans, and persons of African descent. She was respected by Euro Americans. She was respected by persons on all continents.
Her supporters were of various backgrounds expressing her common humanity words – “we are more alike than unalike.”
Media person Oprah Winfrey has mentioned Maya Angelou as her teacher, mentor, and pillar. Maya Angelou’s life and presence was some life coach. Both gifted, Oprah and Maya Angelou have shown the ability to reach deep into the human situation and bring out some conversation and insights touched by creation itself.
Maya Angelou interacted with persons from various backgrounds. Because of respect for her and her respect for Africa’s people, Maya Angelou was a friend of Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s First President, and a member of the international board of Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation, an organisation focussed on addressing the impact of HIV and AIDS.
Both she and Dr Kenneth Kaunda, who has also written some books, had been friends of the human rights giant Martin Luther King.
Later, around 2002 and 2003 when I was living with Dr Kenneth Kaunda in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, I looked forward to joining him in meeting Maya Angelou in person. That time, although there were efforts to link up with her, we learnt Maya Angelou was travelling on some caravan pilgrimage process. It was decided a meeting would be attempted at some later time.
Maya Angelou was an activist who was kind to others. She helped other persons in many ways. On recent BBC World News, the writer, Nobel Literature Prize winner, Toni Morrison talked of Maya Angelou as being generous “almost to a fault.”
Dr Kenneth Kaunda remembers her offering one of her houses for Dr Kaunda and team members to live in while visiting the United States.
And I have heard somewhere that Maya Angelou could also be firm on some issues and would openly assert herself against those persons behaving in what she considered unfair.
Yes, Maya Angelou charted some original path. Writer Toni Morrison told BBC, “She was a real original. There is no duplicate. There is no duplicate.”
Of Maya Angelou’s recent death, Kenneth Kaunda said to me: “She was a very good friend. She has left us. It is a terrible loss.” He has called her a friend of “all of us as human beings in this, our one world.”
On her official website, announcing her passing away, Maya Angelou’s son Guy B Johnson remembers her: “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”
Maya Angelou died Wednesday May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has produced books and performances for us to remember her life and thoughts by. Maya Angelou’s are living products for our times and beyond.
Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development, and peace issues.
Gabriel C Banda, May 2014, LUSAKA.